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    Fanning the Flames; Little Big Mario
    Sunday, 10 August 2008
    Nintendo have been held in high regard for so many modern innovations in today's modern gaming climate. There is a little sub genre currently being created in Guildford, England that the Japanese gaming giants should have thought of long ago...Welcome to world of Little Big Mario.

    Nintendo are undoubtedly the King when it comes to 2D platformers. Whilst it would be pointless to deny that there have been other great 2D games down the years few can match the long term consistency of the Mario's adventures. It's a genre that Nintendo created, but arguably they are close to losing their crown to the guys over at Media Molecule who have created the much critically praised Little Big Planet.

    You cannot help but look at Little Big Planet and think it should be a Nintendo product. The Sackboy characters are as cute as kittens as well as being a merchandiser's dream. The Nintendo like appeal doesn't end there though. The levels we have seen from the single player (that needs to be unlocked to access different materials), have all so far proven to have the type of tight level design one would expect from teams such as Nintendo. Media Molecule have had to come with this all on their own though and whilst yes there are levels and mechanics that bear resemble to common platform stables there can be little doubt that there is mountains of originality tucked away. Nintendo have so many titles just in the platforming genre to draw on and use, imagine being able to draw on all the mechanics and power ups and different level designs from the Mario games of yesteryear. Being able to draw on such a rich heritage is something only really open to Nintendo as a developer.

    With such a wealth of titles, each with their own gameplay ideas, the possibilities are endless.

    Along with the great level design, variety of play and fantastic mechanics demonstrated in the pre-made levels of Little Big Planet there is of course the innovative level designer where Nintendo have seemingly dropped the ball. Popit is the system used to create levels, it used to drag, drop and plonk stuff into your levels with such ease you can chuck together working levels with reckless abandon. There is no scripting or coding to be done, it is all done in game either alone or brilliantly cooperatively with other players. The Popit system is just crying out for the unique control inputs of the Wii and DS, pointer and touch screen, respectively. It looks easy to use and intuitive.

    So that's why it feels like it should be a Nintendo product. Let's look at the reason why it isn't. It's not like Nintendo haven't ever included level editors in their games. Wrecking Crew had a level editor that unfortunately didn't allow for its levels to be saved outside of Japan owing to it originally being developed for the Famicom Data Recorder. Even the recent Mario VS Donkey Kong handheld series is helped by the inclusion of a level editor. However there is a theme here, why has no mainstream Super Mario Bros game contained a level editor?

    It's simple Nintendo want to protect themselves, why bother giving users the opportunity to develop levels themselves when you can instead drip feed them iteration after iteration. New Super Mario Bros has sold a phenomenal amount of copies and is selling in its millions, over two years after it was originally released. Why would Nintendo want to potentially harm these sales when they release a inevitable New Super Mario Bros 2 hits the shelves? It is a shame as going on Youtube reveals plenty of imaginative people illegally using ROMS to make their own versions and twists on levels as well as totally unique efforts. Nintendo has always taken a tough stance against piracy and ROMS etc...what better incentive to give would be game designers to invest in a product that offers them more tools to play with than they will ever find by other means

    Ultimately Nintendo has missed stepping up to the line with this feature as Media Molecule looks set to win critical praise for their innovative and supremely well designed 2D level editing platforming adventure.

    Just one of many possibilties.

    It is not just in level editing and user generated content that Little Big Planet trounces Nintendo. Character Customisation is another buzz bullet point used to sell games, its something Nintendo has experimented with in Animal Crossing and more recently with the Mii Channel. However there is this over riding feeling that it just isn't enough. A Character Creator rich in options is always going to popular just look at the recent Soul Calibur IV to see the efforts people will take to make their favourite characters from other franchises. Nintendo have only made limited forays into this area the Mii system whilst fun to use is limited and has had no updates since the Wii's launch. The Sackboy's of Little Big Planet can however be customised till your hearts content with tons of custom options, including specific items from other franchise. Nintendo have dabbled in this with Animal Crossing, but the fact that the new City Folks Wii version only offers colour changing of sleeves as an extra option shows their lack of drive to offer true customizing.

    Nintendo unfortunately seem to a company who despite their huge market lead and the success of both Wii and DS are missing one opportunity after another. You have to wonder quite how many more times they can miss stuff and still stay at the top. If we are to look at E3 briefly there were numerous examples of this. With WiiMotion Plus came the unveiling of the impressive looking Wii Sports Resort, yet this kind of peripheral is very much something the hardcore want the chance to finally replicate true 1:1 motion, so where was the hardcore game that will use it?

    The moral of this first Fanning the Flames then? Nintendo you have the lead don't go blow it by shafting the hardcore, you can't rely on the casual to constantly keep the pouring in the money in that Nintendo Loyalists have down the years. Give them something that truly resembles true fan service and innovates at the same time. It's not all bad though we did after all have the stellar Super Mario Galaxy last year that showed Nintendo still have that magic.

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    posted by flameboy @ 15:39  
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